The local politics of gas wells boils down to the conflict
between the surface and mineral estates. Developing minerals can harm the
surface. Protecting the surface can render minerals worthless, because inaccessible.
But one of the big problems in Denton right now is that the
two wealthiest interests in the surface and mineral estates are not in
conflict. Land developers can build to maximum capacity right up to gas wells
without informing homebuyers about the industrial activities that will occur
near them. Witness the Vintage situation with DR Horton. Without enforcement of
setbacks on new home developments and without stricter disclosure rules, big
developers have nothing to lose from gas wells on their property. And we all
know that the gas companies are vested under older rules in place prior to the
development of homes. So, new surface developments don’t jeopardize their
It’s a win-win for the big money guys. The only losers are
the unsuspecting folks who actually live there and breathe in the fumes. And
when they try to sell their homes (as many are doing and plan to do in the
Vintage area) they have to disclose the presence of gas wells. So, they take
the financial hit in addition to the risks to their health.
As a friend of mine says, “buyer beware” should apply to the
big land developers and not just the home owners. The big companies should
beware that if they want to develop land in Denton, they will need to know either
that they cannot build closer than 1,200 feet from gas wells or they will need
to fully and accurately inform potential buyers about nearby gas wells.
This issue is playing out again – this time with a proposed
development by Bob Shelton near Ryan Road (see the image above). He wants to rezone
about 75 acres from Neighborhood Residential 2 to Neighborhood Residential 3.
There is one gas well on the site and, according to a letter from Mr. Shelton
Council’s back-up material for their meeting this week (item 5D); there are
two other approved drilling sites (one of which is just 400 feet from Ryan
Elementary). These sites do not show up on the Railroad Commission website, but there is a 105 acre plat in the backup material for City Council that does seem to show them (though it is fuzzy and hard to read).
As always, these things are so damn complex it is hard to
know what to say. But here are some points to consider. First, from Mr. Shelton’s
letter to Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp:
So, maybe the development is actually a good thing, because
if it works it would mean that site near Ryan Elementary that has been approved
(I guess...by the City?) would never actually get developed. But, then again, who knows
whether this statement is true – it would be good for City Council to press
this point and ask what law he seems to be referring to here that would require
him to obtain these waivers. And, by the way, my records show that this is
actually a well where the majority of mineral owners are based in Denton – many
right near the well and some others up on W. University Drive.
And then, consider this from Mr. Shelton’s letter to Mayor
And here is the notice he proposes using:
I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of City Council on
this. After all, this is their ruling ideal (I think) for when it is acceptable
to have people living close to gas wells. That is, it is only acceptable when
they have given their informed consent. But what does that actually mean in
practice and would a notice like this be a good practice?
Is this notice good enough? It is certainly better than no
notice at all. So, would it be alright to have homes just 250 feet from a gas
well if the homeowners had signed such a notice?
I think it hinges on the question of whether potential
buyers would really understand what they are getting into with just these
words. I wonder if City Council could require land developers to show potential
buyers some videos of actual drilling and fracking operations near homes (they
can use footage from the Vintage area). I know this might sound over the top,
but how else will folks really understand what “drilling and production for
natural gas” really means?